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Admit It: The College Application Dilemma | Liam Rosenberg

It’s that time of year, folks: college application deadlines are approaching, FERPAs are being written, and a select few of us feel passive to the process. It’s no secret that admissions can be daunting. How many of us could imagine we would be applying among a significantly larger pool of prospective students? In what has been the main stressor for most, the applying class of 2021 was the largest yet, and our year is set to be no different.

As universities around the nation have abandoned standardized testing, letters of recommendation, and other prerequisites, even our older siblings can’t relate to the admissions process today. There is a chilling degree of uncertainty across the board. Schools that were once a guarantee for students, also called “safety schools,” are now looking drastically different. Some of us have little idea where, if any, we’ll end up in ten months’ time.

In 2021, nearly every top university in the United States withstood staggering blows to their admission rates. According to data self-compiled by the University of California, each major campus (excluding Riverside and Merced) averaged about 100,000 applicants last year. Out of this enormity, only a small number were admitted. At UCLA, around 10% of students were admitted — a 5% drop since 2020.

So, in place of the SAT or ACT, what is propelling students to success at these schools? Unfortunately for many, including myself, grades, as well as a “holistic approach,” are two emphasized indicators of success, especially at the University of California. We know the argument for abandoning standardized tests did hold some truth, as it put swathes of American students that couldn’t afford it at a disadvantage. But grades alone (because let’s face it, academic success isn’t being measured holistically) certainly do not index the academic capability of a student. How many of us can say that they perform the same as they did in ninth or tenth grade?

From my standpoint, this is where college admissions in 2021 hurt the most. I moved across the country in ninth grade and transferred schools twice over the span of ninth and tenth grade. Along the way, I grappled with depression and ADHD, and ultimately became a better student. If a top school were to look at my grades from those years, it almost delegitimizes the experience I have gone through in getting myself to where I am today. Grades should be a work-in-progress, not a deciding factor in one’s success, and I know I am not alone in thinking this.

Among the millions of other students applying to school, there truly is no way to illustrate the nuances of an individual anymore. Test-blind or test-optional schools are helping resolve the institutionalized inequities in the College Board and ACT, sure, but is there no third route? I know that myself and others would benefit greatly from some kind of buffer between one’s grades and essays. We will have to see where this year takes us.

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